A Pennsylvania woman who disappeared more than 30 years ago and was believed to be dead by her family was recently found living in a nursing home in Puerto Rico, her family and police said at a news conference Thursday.
Patricia Kopta, 83, was last seen in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1992, according to a missing person flier posted by the Pennsylvania Emergency Response Center.
Her husband, Bob Kopta, reported her missing a few months later in the fall. At the time, he advised authorities that it wasn’t uncommon for his wife to “drop out of sight for short periods,” according to the flier.
“I come home one night and she’s gone, and nobody knew where she was at,” Kopta said at the news conference with Ross Township Police.
Police said they were first informed about the discovery of the missing woman when an agent from the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and a social worker from Puerto Rico contacted them last year saying that they believed Patricia was living in an adult care home in Puerto Rico.
“What they reported to us was that she came into their care in 1999, when she was found in need in the streets of Puerto Rico,” Ross Township Deputy Chief Brian Kohlhepp said.
INTERPOL and the social worker said Patricia was found wandering the streets and through the years she had “refused to ever discuss her private life or where she came from,” Kohlhepp said.
In her advanced age, Patricia started revealing nuggets that would eventually spur those around her to contact Ross police, Kohlhepp said.
History of mental health issues
When she was in Pittsburgh, Patricia was a “well-known street preacher,” according to the missing person flier. She would approach strangers, telling them she had visions of the Virgin Mary and that the world was coming to an end, the flier said.
Police said her disappearance wasn’t overtly suspicious because they “knew she had a mental health history and she had made statements to other family individuals that she was leaving, that she was concerned that she was going to be placed into a care facility here,” Kohlhepp said. Kohlhepp said police knew she had likely left of her own volition.
Her husband said that his wife had talked about wanting to go to Puerto Rico to live in a tropical environment.
“I even advertised in the paper down in Puerto Rico looking for her,” Kopta said at the news conference, adding that he spent a lot of money over the years searching for her.
Patricia and Bob were married for 20 years before she went missing, Kohlhepp told CNN. He added that Patricia had no known family or connections in Puerto Rico.
DNA testing helped connect the dots
Police determined the woman was in fact Patricia through a nine-month-long process in which they compared DNA samples provided by her sister, Gloria Smith, and her nephew.
“We really thought she was dead all those years,” Smith said at the news conference.
Even before DNA testing was completed, the family knew it was Patricia as soon as they saw her photo, Kohlhepp said.
Smith said that she has called the adult care home in Puerto Rico several times but has been unable to hold a conversation with her sister because she has dementia.
“We didn’t expect it. It was a very big shock to see – to know that she’s still alive,” her sister said. “You know, we’re so happy and I hope I can get down to see her.”
CNN has not been able to directly contact the woman’s family.